American in Spain

Tourette's Butcher

June 28, 2013
Medium Rare

I'd never met anyone with Tourette's syndrome before…until today. Rather than go to my local grocer for my daily shopping, I went for a bigger purchase to a larger supermarket chain. I needed to get some chicken thighs, so I went to the butcher section. As I arrived, someone was waiting for their lamb chops to be chopped, and another shopper came up to ask where a particular item was in the store. The butcher was very polite and told her it was "down that aisle and on the right". As the woman was walking away, he mumbled, "¡hijo de puta!" under his breath. For those of you not versed in Spanish swearing, that's "son of a bitch". I was shocked, but the shopper either didn't hear or didn't respond. As he was chopping some ribs with a hatchet, a job that requires some fearless strength, he seemed to be going at it with a gusto like he was angry or thinking about an enemy he'd like to punch. I almost made a casual "Thinking of your boss?" comment, but I chose not to. I thought he was genuinely pissed off about something.

That was when I noticed the twitching.

His head flipped hard to the side a few times, and he moved the blade safely into open space.

I ordered my thighs, and he went about preparing them. Then I heard "¡hijo de puta!" about six times, and some more twitching. It was both unnerving and hilarious. I immediately felt bad for stifling a smile, but the social awkwardness of random swearing, when it catches you off guard, really is the stuff of comedians.

I began reflecting on the choice of profession. Butchery doesn't really seem like the best career for someone suffering from muscle spasms, but it was good at what he did. When his tics occurred, he moved the knife away from himself, and when he was cutting, the tics didn't happen. As he worked, he joked in a friendly manner with the lady in the adjacent fish section. When he wasn't (apparently) calling me a son of a bitch under his breath, he was exceedingly polite and friendly, with genuine charisma.

What a sad affliction. How many times must people have said, angrily, "What did you just say to me!!?" Probably fewer than the times people have laughed at him. I cannot begin to imagine.

Bravo to the supermarket for daring to employ someone suffering from such disorder in a public facing role. Well done. I will continue to give you my business.